Friday, June 13, 2008

sweatshops and sponsorhips

Ok –following on from my post yesterday: with my carbon neutrality restored, is the Earth now safe? Can I float off on a white fluffy cloud, levitated only by the power of my own smugness?

Not a bit of it.

Much of what I buy – what we all buy - has been made by people in third world countries on wages I wouldn’t approve of.

Now, I can try to buy less (though I don’t quite know how – I barely even register in the world of consumer goods and don’t even own a supermarket loyalty card on the grounds that either it's an afront to my civil liberties or that I keep loosing it - can't quite work out which) and I can try to buy fair-trade goods, but labelling isn’t always there, and I don’t always have the time or energy to find out everything about every garment, piece of food, or factory produced item I buy.

Of course, there is an argument that says it’s better to have someone employed than not employed, and that the money is going into a country it woudn’t otherwise have gone to. This is true, but it’s not the point. The point is, I'm responsible for sustaining the marketplace which forces people into slavery.

So let’s take a guess. So let’s say I estimate my spending on goods that have been made, assembled, picked, packaged or built using underpaid workers and children. Let’s say I take a guess that 2/3 of the purchase cost of these items goes in getting the goods to the UK and in profits to the shops that sell them. Let’s say of the remaining 1/3, 1/5 is justifiable profit for the manufacturers. The rest should be paid to the workers.

In other words, for every £100 I spend, there’s £26 that should be going to the workers and probably isn’t.

A quick bit of research (I’m copying from another website here) says some of the biggest problem industries are:

Shoes: Many types of shoes are made in sweatshops. However, the biggest problem is found with sneakers and athletic shoes.Most athletic shoes are made in sweatshops in Asian countries.Child labor is also very common in the shoe industry.

Clothing: Clothing is very often made in sweatshops and with the use of child labor.In the U.S. the majority of garment workers are immigrant women that work 60-80 hours a week, usually without minimum wage or overtime pay. Overseas, garment workers routinely make less than a living wage, working under extremely oppressive conditions.

Rugs: A lot of child labor is used in the rug industry. Nearly one million children are illegally employed making hand-knotted rugs worldwide.Approximately 75% of Pakistan's carpet weavers are girls under 14.

Toys: A lot of toys are made in sweatshops and by child labor. Especially toys made in countries like China, Malaysia, Thailand or Vietnam. The average North American toy maker earns $11 an hour. In China, toy workers earn an average of 30 cents an hour.

Chocolate: 43% of cocoa beans come from the Ivory Coast where recent investigators have found child slavery. In addition, cocoa workers who are paid, receive wages that leave them at the edge of poverty and starvation.

Bananas: Banana workers are some of the most exploited workers in the world. They have to work long hours, get low pay, are forced overtime and are exposed to dangerous pesticides.

Coffee: Coffee is the second largest US import after oil.Many small coffee farmers receive prices for their coffee that are less than the cost of production, forcing them into a cycle of poverty and debt.

so how much do I spend on this kind of stuff?

Well It’d be really tough to work out… however:

Let’s say I spend £500 per year on clothes (I don’t think I do, but probably if I add George’s baby clothes in, I’m sure it comes to that)

Food: um… well, let’s say another £500 on foods picked under bad conditions (I’m not sure about this either…. I try to buy seasonal stuff, but not all the time). I haven’t got a clue about the processes behind every food item on the shelf and I don’t know that finding out would help much with the calculation.

And let’s say another £800 on sundry other stuff – bits of plastic, toys, etc…

Ok – so that’s £1800 per year, of which I’ve decided £468 is money that should be going to underpaid workers.

Now there are a lot of charities out there doing good work trying to get sweatshops and slave labour abolished.

But as I’ve said, though the political stuff is all very well, and very important, my aim in this is clear – I want practical measurable results. I want to create a solid positive benefit.

So what to do?

Well, a number of ideas occur to me, but the favourite – and the one I’ve gone for is to sponsor 2 children through Actionaid. … the idea being that the money that should have been going to the poorest communities instead of lining the pockets of retail chains and manufacturers gets used where it should have been in the first place.

Stay tuned for the next exciting episode – in which I try to work out how much space I really take up…


Eric said...

I promise this is not an attempt to push my book, but "The Real Toy Story" which was published last year contains a lot about toy manufacture in sweat shops and the working conditions of the workers and what they actually get.
Eric Clark

Christian Darkin said...

sounds interesting.

I shouldn't worry about pushing your book - this blog doesn't really have a global audience I don't think.... it's really just my diary!

Pietro said...

Great news about your mum- do say hello... or Christine, glad all's going OK (if you're reading this). Pietro